Film review: Striking Distance

Published: Monday, Sept. 20 1993 12:00 a.m. MDT

Bruce Willis is back in action in the generically titled "Striking Distance," this time playing a second-generation Pittsburgh homicide detective whose life is about to be turned upside-down.

Willis is already being blackballed by his fellow officers because he has ratted on his partner — who also happens to be his cousin.

He's also convinced that a cop or ex-cop is responsible for the string of serial killings going on in the area, which does not help his relationship with his colleagues. (This murderer is a particularly sadistic fellow; he calls 911 to play "Little Red Riding Hood" over the phone as he kills his victims, all beautiful young women.)

Early in the film, the killer is being pursued by police, including Willis and his father (John Mahoney). It's a high-speed chase that ends with Mahoney being shot by the serial killer. Later, when an innocent man is convicted of the killings, Willis finally hits bottom.

At this point, the film leaps two years forward as we see that Willis is letting alcoholism take its toll. He has also dropped out of the force and is now part of the local River Rescue patrol. He's still a cop but just barely.

It isn't long, however, before the bodies of women Willis has known start popping up in the river and it becomes apparent that he's getting calling cards from another . . . or is it the same? . . . serial killer.

Meanwhile, he gets a new partner, in the form of young rookie Sarah Jessica Parker, and, of course, they start off as adversaries and then begin a romantic relationship.

"Striking Distance" is no "Die Hard" but it does boast some wildly satisfying chases and some well-staged stuntwork. Action is obviously director Rowdy Herrington's strength. But like Herrington's other films, "Road House" and "Gladiator," this one (which he co-wrote with TV writer Martin Kaplan) suffers from a bevy of story deficiencies.

The first 20 minutes or so is promising, setting up a yarn that has potential for more complexity than the usual cop thriller. But it soon veers off into routine territory and becomes by-the-numbers stuff. You may not guess the actual killer's identity before he is revealed in the end but the general situation becomes all too obvious along the way. (And it's pretty silly.)

There are other problems, however. Parker is woefully miscast, never believable for a moment as the character she portrays, and the romance is contrived and fairly ridiculous. Worse, John Mahoney, a fine character actor, helps set up a nice father-son-relationship with Willis in the film's earliest scenes but is then written out almost immediately. He is sorely missed throughout the picture.

Willis acquits himself well, but this is just another wrong choice from an actor who seems to make too many of them. Willis has proven himself adept at light comedy ("Death Becomes Her"), strong drama ("In Country") and action-packed heroics (the "Die Hard" flicks) but he too often picks pictures that show him off in a very bad light ("Bonfire of the Vanities," "Hudson Hawk," "The Last Boy Scout"). Many more choices like this and his fans will eventually desert him. Myself included.

"Striking Distance" is rated R for violence, a steady stream of profanity, along with a sex scene with brief nudity.